SALT LAKE CITY — People trying to work through the tangles in life might see a psychologist or some other type of therapist.
But what if someone doesn't have the time to make appointments, or the money, or they're just trying to shake those infamous January blues. Where do they go for help?
I had no idea, until I dove into that question, that a significant amount of therapy takes place — in hair salons.
My friend Jan Davis has a one-chair salon called Jan's Style Shop. She keeps up on sports, movies and current events so she will have something to talk about with clients who come in to get their hair done. I was trying to pose a question to her about whether she considers herself, well, "A therapist?" she broke in.
Jan didn't even have to stop and think about it. She said people open way up the moment they plop down in a stylist's chair and have one of those attractive drapes snapped around their neck. In addition to knowing how to cut and style hair, Jan said conversation skills and a good dose of diplomacy are a big part of her job.
I got the same response when I took the question to the Cameo College of Essential Beauty in Murray. Students Kristen Killpack and Sheila Lemus said they spend a lot of time studying their diplomacy and conversation/therapy skills.
Sheila said she was surprised to find out what a big part of the job listening would be. Kristen told me that the trust she had in the woman who cut her hair as a youngster — and the fact she cared more about the conversation than the cut during those hair appointments — was part of the reason she decided she, too, wanted a career as a hair stylist.
One of our readers commenting on my TV column at ksl.com said his wife "has a college degree in psychology and now does hair. It works well for her." I found several blogs by hair stylists where they talk about their role as therapists.
Cameo instructor Wendy Merrill told me she and the other instructors spend a lot of time teaching their students about the kinds of conversations they will be engaging in with clients and preparing them to stay in their proper role. She said 15 percent of a stylist's work involves technical skill; the other 85 percent is communication.
"Clearly we're not psychologists, we're not therapists. So we have to be very, very careful with the advice that we give," Wendy said. "I can kind of teach anybody how to cut hair, but to teach people ... that communication and psychology of it, that is really one of the most difficult things that we teach."
Kristen told me stylists are often the first to spot signs of domestic abuse because of how closely they are working with a client's head and face. Stylists take very seriously the role of steering an abused adult or child in the direction of help. Cameo staff give about a dozen referrals a week to area protective shelters, like the YWCA and the South Valley Sanctuary, as part of a nation-wide program salons participate in called Cut it Out.
Layers of anonymity and privacy protections in place make it difficult for the shelters to say how many of those referrals are followed through, but Cut it Out staff told me they have given out 400,000 promotional posters for the program.
Jan summed up the therapy role for me: "I think it's just really good if you are a people person. You have to be a good listener, and you have to be able to answer questions when you're asked."